We must have been fifteen or sixteen when we discovered the church visitor’s book. It was an old church, maybe medieval, and I would pass it with my school friends on our way to the town center. I’m not sure what possessed us to go in; it might have been my idea. I’ve always loved old churches. For a long time, I would tell myself that I liked the sense of history or the architecture, which was true as far as it went. Like the narrator in Philip Larkin’s poem “Church Going,” I would venture into any church I found, standing “in awkward reverence . . . wondering what to look for,” drawn by some sense that this was “a serious house on serious earth.” Obviously, there was no God, but still: The silence of a small church in England had a quality that couldn’t be found anywhere else.
This visit was less serious. A fifteen-year-old boy with his schoolmates can’t be admitting an interest in rood lofts. I’d like to say it was someone else’s idea to write in the visitor’s book, where other people had inscribed things like “what a beautiful building” and “I feel a tremendous sense of peace here,” but a man should never lie about matters of the soul. It was I who took up the biro and scrawled, “I WILL DESTROY YOU AND ALL OF YOUR WORKS! HA HA HA!” then signed it “SATAN.” A few days later, we came back and did it again. “DIE, NAZARENE! VICTORY IS MINE!” I think we’d been watching the Omen films. We kept going for weeks, wondering when we’d be caught. We never were, but one day we came in to find that all of our entries had been tippexed out and the pen removed. The fun was over. We went to the video shop instead.